Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ex Tenebris Lux

© Aideen Barry 2009

Aideen Barry is a Visual Artist, working in the media of performance, film, musical composition, drawings and animation. She was awarded funding from the Arts Council of Ireland’s Projects: New Work Award towards the creation of a new work filmed in Zero Gravity whilst on a residency at Kennedy Space Centre, NASA. In September 2008 Barry was invited to partake in the collaboration project ‘Sound design for future films’ initiated by the artists Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S.Davidsson with four other participating artists Pierre Huyghe, Christine Rebet, Kate Gilmore & Klaus Schafler. In 2008 this showed at Moderna Museet, Sweden, and later traveled to The Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio.

Sean Kissane, Head of Exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art selected Barry to represent Ireland at FRA GIL in Barcelona, Spain in May 2008. Barry was the Irish Artist in Residence at the Banff Centre in Canada in 2007. She also undertook a residency for Convoy, in Seydisfjourder, in Iceland, which was funded by The Skaftfell Centre, Iceland and Culture Ireland. She curated Subversion and the Domestic: House Projects, which has been published into a book on the 7-curated projects in Ireland, New York and London. She co-curated a number of exhibitions including TULCA: City of Strangers (Galway) and ‘Terms & Conditions’ with another artist Pauline Cummins at the Mermaid Arts Centre (Bray, Ireland.)

Barry teaches part-time in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, The Galway Film Centre and also has lectured in several art institutions in the west including NUIG Galway, Limerick School of Art and Design, Sligo Institute of Technology and The Burren College of Art on their MFA programme. Barry lives and works in Galway in the West of Ireland. She recently spoke with me about her work and her residency experience at the NASA Kennedy Space Centre.

© Aideen Barry 2009

GOE: Are there any artists in particular that have influenced you?

AB: Lots, and lots and lots....
I don't really know where to begin.

I cant say there is any one main artist. There are certainly a lot of writers and thinkers: Beckett, Foucault, Heirdegger, then sci fi writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Neal Stephenson and of course the gothic horror writers...especially our Irish ones, Sheridan La Fanu and Bram Stoker.

In film there have been so many, I don’t really know where to begin: Lynch, Cronenburg, and Kubrick have had a massive impact on me. Contemporary film makers such as Vivienne Dick, Lars Laumann, and Eija-Liisa Ahtila have been making such interesting works delving into the notion of the third space; both in the making of their film and video works but also how the work is sited between the cinema theatre and the Gallery while also addressing the in-between spaces of our minds, I find this extremely exciting and at this point this has had a major impact on the way I have made film and video works.

What was the 1st piece of art that provoked a strong response in you?

I am not sure exactly what the first one was...
I think, to be honest some of the most important pieces of art I saw as a child were some of the eastern European animations that RTE used to screen on the telly. RTE ( Radio Telefis Eireann) must have got them cheap at the time, and probably didn't realise what gems they were. I remember seeing some of Jan Lenica's films like Ubu and the Great Gidouille (clip) and being blown away.

Also RTE occasionally would show something out of the ordinary, like Calder's Circus (clip), and that had such an amazing impact on me as a child. Calder's ingenuity was mesmerising, and I remember trying to replicate his inventions with elastic bands and bits of wire; to try to make his circus creatures and characters, performing them to myself, building stages out of old shoe boxes...

I grew up in the 80's in Ireland in working class Cork city. We had nothing and in a way that was a blessing as I spent every single minute making something, comic books, paper dress dolls, catapults! You name it, and seeing that kind of stuff on the telly was just awesome to my little brain!

© Aideen Barry 2009

You mentioned in a statement that your current work deals with the notion of the “Uncanny”; and that this work has been informed by a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Most artists that I have known seem to have a slightly obsessive streak or drive about their work that seems to feed the creative process. What drives you to make art?

In 2006 I was diagnosed with a mild form of OCD. This manifests itself with nervous fits, panic attacks and compulsions; I stay up all night cleaning and cleaning and cleaning, organising and re-organising the studio. I don't get enough sleep and I cant stop working. I am not sure exactly why I am the way I am, but I feel quite normal in comparison to most of the neighbours in our housing estate in County Galway. Some times I look out the window on a Sunday and I see the neighbour from number 43 cleaning the inside of the hubcaps of her 08 Lexus hybrid 4x4 monster car and think "Bloody Hell, she is definitely more OCD than me!".

Its crazy what Celtic Tiger Ireland has done to this country. Everyone has been racing around striving for perfection in some way, trying to be better than the family next door, and somehow, there is a slippage, the mania is just beneath this bizarre veneer, and we may have lost something... perhaps our minds! At the moment its Holy Communion Season in our housing estate. For the past 4 days the road has turned into Inflatable land, with bouncy castles in every second garden. Each one trying to out do each other with the size and colour of their inflatable "Bouncy-Manor". We may be on the verge of bankruptcy as a country but by god we are going to have that bouncy castle for the little one on his or her "big day for god".

In a way I think not just every artist has a form of a disorder, I think we all do. Perhaps we are the ones that are saying, " You know, its ok, I'm an artist and I can be mad" in a kind of Van Gogh kinda way, but in reality, we are all a little unhinged.

I find this all rather fascinating....

For me this is the new Gothic. We always seemed to regard the ones with the long black hair, and painted pale faces as the ones to be feared, in terms of "The Goths", but in reality, the Irish Housewife is a far far scarier person, in a Bree Van de kamp ( Desperate Housewives/HBO) kinda way! I mean you only have to look around at the new Ireland with the thousands of cloned housing estates, and the 'stepfordzombiness' that has settled in to what were Irish Villages and market towns up and down the country and wonder, what kind of nightmare have we woken up to in our country?

This is what drives me to make art, I like to hold up a mirror to our reality and say "Is this what we are now? Is this where we should be? And what next horror is around the corner?"

© Aideen Barry 2009

Most inspiring place or space you’ve been?

My Housing Estate. NASA is a close second.

You were awarded funding from the Arts Council of Ireland for a New Work Award towards the creation of new work filmed in Zero Gravity. This was done whilst you were on a residency at the Kennedy Space Centre with NASA. That sounds like a dream come true for most people. Can you tell me about the experience?

Long story: I have always wanted to go into space!

Partly because my baby sitter as a child was my first cousin Breda O'Callaghan-Hay. She was attending UCC at the time studying experimental physics. After she got her doctorate, she went ofF to the states and joined the US Air Core, and started flying fighter jets. It has been her dream to get into the NASA Astronaut Programme. She has actually gotten shortlisted for NASA fifteen times or something like that. So her chances of being the first Irish person in space are extremely high! But I want to beat her.

I made a pitch to the Arts Council of Ireland to Help me Beat my Cousin in the Race for Space. Partially because the training to be an astronaut is an endurance performance in itself, partly I wanted to make some work in zero gravity and purely on a selfish reason, I really want to see space. So they funded me, and in December 2008 myself and my camera man Chris Hurley went off to Kennedy Space Centre to do a residency; and to experience zero gravity in parabolic flights, with other astronaut hopefuls. It was an amazing experience and I am still trying to process everything that happened out there.

© Aideen Barry 2009

What do you do when the going gets tough and creativity isn’t flowing?

I clean.

When viewing your work I get the feeling that it is at times humorous but mixed with hints of dark undertones; and you’ve created some truly beautiful imagery that can be slightly unsettling simultaneously. You mention that “Through playful manipulation of materials, objects and scenarios, a productive dialogue emerges between object and body. I use these notions as a tool in expressing human behaviour in the strange area between amusement, madness and discomfort; creating balance and tension. “. How did you become interested in using optical illusions, endurance performance and the challenges presented to us in our everyday reality in your work?

I think one of the things that enables me to make work, is that I am never at ease, I never feel I am at home and I am rarely comfortable where I am. This causes me to constantly question why that is, why do I not belong and how can I address these feelings.

Perhaps its because I am never really sure if what I am seeing is real or imagined, or that perhaps it is an untruth. There is definitely a humour involved in the work I make and I enjoy incorporating that into the work; but a larger element for me as a person is fear and insecurity. These are like the vowels to my words: my works. They shape where I am going to go next with each project.

In your question about how I began to work in endurance performance, I guess it was like a testing of my self in this reality. I was very much interested in how the body pushes itself beyond its limitations in a ritualistic performance. How after a while you don't feel pain and you don't notice time passing. Again this for me questions what is real and what is perceived to be possible. Though this is only a part of the larger body of my practice.

© Aideen Barry 2009

The optical illusions were also a test of this reality. In the film Levitating 2007 (above) I spent 7 days jumping and doing my domestic chores around the housing estate I lived in at the time. I set up the shot to take a photograph when I was exactly 6 inches of the ground. Then I turned these photographs into an animated film. If you can image that film works at a frame rate of 25 frames or photographs a second, well you can just imagine how many jumps I had to do to create an illusion of levitating above the ground. This was what I now call a Performative film,
made out of an endurance performance work on camera to create an effortless ( looking) illusion of hoovering.

The every day reality is definitely presented in this film, as it is my house, my local supermarket, my neighbourhood where the film was shot; to everyone who watches it, there is a familiarity to this uncanny scene.

Do you find art cathartic?

Em, yes and no.
Yes because I would go mad if I didn't create,
but then sometimes it's hard because you are constantly looking at yourself and questioning every single decision. I would say I have a love/hate relationship with art.

Oh classic, I am the tortured artist...how did that happen?

Can you give an example of how a piece comes to life; can you talk me through your process?

I am not sure exactly because its very different for each work.
I can tell you about these new objects I am making at the moment.
I am interested to see how the contemporary mania will manifest itself in the future. In particular I am interested to see how the Irish House wife will evolve in the future and how the "War on Germs' will manifest.

© Aideen Barry 2009

Having been to NASA and been informed by the materials that are used in creating objects to send into space; such as aluminum and alastics, I have started to create what I call "Weapons of Mass Consumption". These include Spray Grenades, where are cast aluminum grenades but with domestic spray cleaner handles on top (See www.aideenbarry.com for more images).

The objects are extremely seductive, funny and yet terrifying. I try to incorporate a humour and a familiarity into them. Like you can look at them and recognise certain aspects of their structure from your own Cif cleaning product in your kitchen or bathroom.....They are rather funny objects...I do like them!

How would your life change if art was no longer a focus, if you were no longer allowed to create art?

Well I just don't know. The obvious answer is that I just wouldn't be able to function anymore. I would be a vegetable.

What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

To make the best possible work that I can, and to enjoy doing so along the way. To be true to myself and my convictions.

For more information on Aideen's work: www.aideenbarry.com

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